step back from all of the commitments in your schedule for a moment. ignore all of your chores, jobs, meetings, obligations and evening plans, and take a look at the world as it buzzes around you. what you'll see is a culture who is completely obsessed with always doing.
"go, go, go!”, we say, as we urge each other on.
the truth is, we rarely allow ourselves to just simply be.
we pride ourselves on always being busy, on working long hours, on always achieving, on competing, on pushing for more, on finding success, on constantly cramming the most into every possible day.
“whoever works the most, wins!”, many of us mistakenly think.
but that's absurd. if that's the life we choose, then our work will never be done. we'll never have enough time, we'll never have enough stuff, we'll always need more, and we'll always be in a state of flux and despair.
but life isn't a contest. it’s not a race or a game.
we’ve become gluttons of our own productivity.
we gorge ourselves on countless things we hope to someday attain and we busy ourselves endlessly, trying to reap the rewards of happiness they promise.
yet once we finally rest our weary heads all we feel is a nagging sense of unease. we’re overwhelmed. we've stuffed ourselves full. we've feasted on everything we possibly could to distract us from what matters the most, the one thing we'll never be able to escape — the quality of our inner selves.
we know we’re not satisfied, and yet we persist. we keep piling more and more on. this is the never-ending hedonic treadmill. we'll never have enough, no thing will ever be able truly deliver our happiness.
we are a flash of consciousness, a tiny spark that stays lit for only a brief moment before it goes dim. all that we truly have is our awareness; everything else are ephemeral manifestations, mirages distracting us from where we find our true peace; within ourselves.
we are not free from the consequence of our fixations.
like a leech that latches onto flesh in muddy waters, so too are the cloudy torrents of our minds, grasping at all of our ill-perceived desires. the nature of our being is this: whatever we dwell on distracts us from true happiness. when we become mindlessly attached to something, whatever it may be, regardless of whether it seems good or bad, it will eventually cause us to struggle and suffer.
however, we don't have to dwell on anything. we can consciously choose where we focus our mind's attention.
being aware of the nature of your mind requires the muscle of mindfulness, and like all muscles, it requires exercise.
when we retreat into the tranquil space of our conscious awareness, we free ourselves from everything we've been clinging to, regardless of whether they be ideas and opinions, assumptions and expectations, emotions such as jealousy, fear and anger, or even obsessive thoughts on people, places and things.
can you sit silently with yourself, with no tasks or distractions, and simply listen and observe, without comment, opinion, or judgement? have you ever tried to just be, as you are, fully content in the moment and unimpeded by thought, without feeling the need to do anything else at all?
become zen. empty your mind. listen to the world around you, but do not offer a reply. open your consciousness. see things as they are, but do not form opinions or place judgement. become aware. allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise, but do not search for reasons why. accept whatever is present. notice, and let go.
this is where we find relief from the madness of our over-active and hyper-stressed minds. this place, that's always within us, is our both our freedom and redemption. this is where we discover our true peace, happiness and equanimity.
this is the practice of mindfulness.
when you slow down and allow yourself to tune into the totality of your moment-to-moment experience, rather than being constantly consumed with self-obsessed thoughts, a great calm washes over you. you regain control of your life.
the beautiful thing is, everyone can do this and it requires nothing more than intention, patience and practice. try to locate that place within yourself where your awareness rests (many people visualize it as being behind your eyes). it's that space within you that senses everything, including both the contents of your mind and the outer world. be aware that you’re aware, and that is all. do not feed any of your thoughts with your attention. there will be many, and the stream will be endless, but practice on simply trying to let the thoughts pass.
become the watcher.
whatever arises within your mind, just allow it to drift by, ungrasped.
if you engage with your emotions they'll take on a larger form and will soon manifest into unease. you'll empower them. they'll suddenly loom larger in your mind, and the more space they require, the more energy they'll consume. they'll drain you. they'll become a burden that you'll need to maintain with even further thoughts, which then proliferate into even more yet. it's a never-ending cycle that easily spins out of control and overwhelms.
even the lightest of things become heavy, when forced to hold for long periods of time.
if i hand you a pail of water and ask for you to hold onto it, and i warn you to be careful because of its great weight, you’ll probably laugh and say, “this isn’t too bad, it’s painless to carry. in fact, it’s actually quite light."
yet if i ask you to hold it indefinitely, your arm will soon tire. your muscles will burn and your shoulders will ache. soon it will consume you and overtake every passing thought. soon you'll be screaming inside your head, “how much longer must i hold on? my fingers burn and my arm has gone numb, the pain is simply too great!”.
the tiny pail will become your master, and you, its slave.
this is no different than all of the thoughts, emotions, stories, and all of the mental conjecture we cling to — “i’m not good enough”, “he doesn’t really like me”, “i’ll never be able to do that”, “i think they’re talking about me”, "all i need is a new car", "once i get a raise i'll be happy", "they're mad at me", "i'm too fat", "no one cares", "i'm depressed".
all of these things weigh you down and distract you from appreciating all of the beauty in every passing moment. your awareness escapes you when you become ensnared in conversations with your self. you become blinded by your inner drama. the spotlight of your attention shifts onto all the things your ego conjures, and it prevents you from realizing the happiness that's actually right here, right now, hiding underneath all the neuroses of the over-active, self-obsessed mind.
your fixations will consume you.
but our struggle isn’t actually with the passing thoughts themselves — we can't control whatever happens to spontaneously pop into our minds — our struggle is with the attention we feed these feelings with.
if we don't respond to our fleeting thoughts, then we'll simply see them for what they are and allow them to pass. you might realize, "oh, that's just me dwelling on the unchangeable past," before you wave at it and let it go. if we don't grab at these fragments of ego, they'll soon slip past us and fade away into the unknowable void, unfettered by the focus of our attention, just like everything else we no longer bother to consider.
when we cling to the stories we continuously tell ourselves, we suffer. we convince ourselves of things that aren't actually there. it's as if we're constantly filling a bucket with all of our temporary fits of madness, we refuse to let go and then we wonder why we've grown so weary.
the practice of mindfulness can lessen our moment-to-moment delusions.
it allows us to become consciously aware of our fixations, and to finally move beyond them. it allows us to stop for a brief moment and take a breath, and to notice and appreciate what's really happening, both within and without.
drop your pail of attachments. pour them into the stream of your open awareness. let your fixations drift away, like drops over a waterfall.